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Helping Japan: IDF dispatches docs, U.S. Jews raise $2 million and counting

An Israeli officer performing an ultrasound check on a Japanese woman using a portable ultrasound device at an Israeli army field hospital in Minamisanriku, where half of the town’s 17,000 residents were killed by a tsunami, March 24, 2011. (JDC)

An Israeli officer performing an ultrasound check on a Japanese woman using a portable ultrasound device at an Israeli army field hospital in Minamisanriku, where half of the town’s 17,000 residents were killed by a tsunami, March 24, 2011. (JDC)

SAN FRANCISCO (JTA) — “Another day here in this devastated village,” Dr. Ofer Merin writes from the Israeli-run emergency field hospital where he is working in tsunami-wracked Japan.

Merin, deputy director-general of Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center, is the head of surgical operations at the field hospital set up last week by the Israel Defense Forces in Minamisanriku, a town in the Miyagi Prefecture. Half of the town’s 17,000 residents were killed by the tsunami that followed the massive 9.0-magnitude earthquake on March 11.

The IDF flew in an aid delegation of 50 officers and soldiers, including medical personnel, civilian aid workers and logistics experts, as well as a team from the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, and immediately got to work helping victims in this hard-hit area where thousands of people are still missing or homeless. (Follow the delegation’s work on Twitter.)

“We are seeing more and more patients,” Merin reports on the blog he is maintaining to chronicle Israeli medical efforts in Minamisanriku. “Physicians from all around are coming with their patients for consults with our specialists, for blood tests and X-rays. An elderly lady walked a long distance to reach us. These are facilities they simply don’t have."

While Israelis provide medical help on the ground in Japan, American Jewish organizations have raised millions of dollars for the ravaged island nation. By April 1, the groups had brought in more than $2 million for Japan relief.

The Jewish federation system collectively has raised nearly $1 million for emergency aid — about $187,000 from the Jewish Federations of North America umbrella organization and some $680,000 from individual federations. The federations in Chicago and New York each raised more than $125,000; Toronto brought in more than $100,000.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, whose nonsectarian disaster relief programs constitute the primary overseas arm of federation efforts, has raised $1.4 million for Japan relief. The money is being used for equipment and medications at the IDF field hospital, as well as other essential services provided by agencies including the International Rescue Committee, which is sending food, fuel and other emergency supplies to evacuation centers; JEN, a Japanese nongovernmental organization; UNICEF, which is handling children’s needs; and Chabad, which is providing food, water bottles and baked goods in Sendai.

On his blog, Merin reported that the Japanese people are reticent about being treated by foreign doctors, but that victims started pouring after the town’s mayor showed up as the clinic’s first patient.

The mayor, who suffered chest injuries from the tsunami, was examined by Dr. Ofir Cohen-Marom, commander of the IDF medical delegation.

Merin said that daily aftershocks from the quake continue to rock the area, “but like everything in life, you almost get used to them.” The hospital was established near the coastline but in an elevated area, he explains, so “if G-d forbid another tsunami will occur, it will not reach us.”

The IDF’s Home Front Command and Medical Corps, often the first to send aid delegations to disaster areas around the world, have filled key roles in more than 20 international aid efforts. They include medical care and search-and-rescue teams sent to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake; New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in August 2005; and Southeast Asia following the December 2005 tsunami.

(To donate to Japan relief efforts, visit http://bit.ly/ifDJYB.)

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